How do you find the time to do all this?
“All this” refers to writing, blogging, marketing, promoting, social media, website building, blogging, traveling, speaking, plus my day job of university professor. The question comes up so often that I wonder what kind of secret people think I’m hiding, like …
- I hire administrative help.
- I use ghostwriters.
- I enslave students.
- I take a pill that means I never have to sleep.
- I’ve discovered how to clone myself.
- I’m an alien life form.
Up until now, I’ve never had a good answer for people who asked this question. I sleep, eat, watch TV, and have downtime like everyone else.
But I’ve been meditating on what helpful advice I might have that doesn’t involve miraculous scientific advances or large inheritances.
Here are 5 strategies.
1. Decide what you’ll stop doing—and I’m not talking about TV.
This isn’t discussed nearly often enough. Every year, you should make a “stop doing” list. It’s a highly personal activity if done right, so I can’t say universally to all of you: Stop doing THIS.
However, when I talk about a “stop doing” list, I’m not talking about stuff like watching TV, working in your yard, going shopping, or other activities that make life enjoyable—though these things be on your list too. Your call.
What I’m really talking about are projects and activities that probably fall under the rubric of the writing life, but have (1) stopped being fun and enjoyable, (2) aren’t pushing you further or growing your skills, and (3) suck up your time without benefit. Sometimes you even have to stop doing things you enjoy because you have to free up time for something more important to you. (For instance, I stopped doing weekly Best Tweets for Writers compilations, even though I enjoyed it.)
These are tough decisions to make, but if you don’t currently have the time you need to make progress, you have to stop doing something. (Gather more ideas here.)
Finally—and most controversially in this context—stop reading writing advice. Like it or not, it’s one of the biggest and most attractive distractions in the world, because it usually comes with community, conversations, and relationships. But you can overindulge in it, especially if you’re constantly telling yourself you’re not “ready” to write. One gets better at writing primarily by doing two things: writing and reading. Mentoring is helpful and essential of course, but only in so much as you’re practicing and producing the work. So get to work.
2. Pay someone to do stuff that you don’t like or don’t need to learn.
This assumes you have more money than time. If not, skip to No. 3.
Long ago, I decided that my time was much better spent on writing and teaching rather than cleaning. So, I hired a cleaning service for my apartment and I never wash my car. I hire someone to do my taxes. I hired someone to move my website to a new host because, while I could manage it myself, I didn’t want the time sink or headache.
Identify activities in your life that give you no pleasure to do, and that you have the money to pay for.
3. Say good-bye to guilt and obligation.
This is the hardest thing of all, because we’re so attached to our guilt and obligation. This is a writing site, though, not a psychology site, so I won’t go into the step-by-step of how to rid yourself of these self-imposed problems, but if you’re interested in newfound freedom, then you need to examine activities you don’t enjoy and continue doing only because you feel obligated to someone. What’s the very worst thing that could happen if you stopped?
And, by the way, this applies to social media too. Do you feel obligated to read someone’s blog posts every day? Do you feel obligated to acknowledge people on social media sites, to acknowledge every e-mail and Facebook message, to respond to every single blip on your screen?
You don’t have to. Respond to the messages and to the people who actually matter to you, or when it’s a pleasure to interact, or when you feel grateful, or when you are giving from your abundance and not feeling exhausted by the activity.
4. Be good at what you do.
Some of the biggest timewasters are activities you may enjoy, but that you have little skill for. This describes me when I first started blogging in 2001. (I abandoned it, but returned to the form when I was better prepared.)
The paradox here is that you only get good at something by logging a lot of hours doing it. The more you write, the better you get at writing. The more you blog, the better you get at blogging. The more you interact on social media, the better you get at social media. And by “better,” I mean that the quality of your work increases, your efficiency increases, and your effectiveness increases.
I attribute most of my apparent productivity to the fact I’ve become very good at what I do.
If you’re not good at what you’re doing, then you must decide to:
- Pursue it harder than before and get really good
- Stop doing it so you can get good at something else
5. Spend the most time on what matters most to you.
Obvious, isn’t it? But we don’t do it. We’re constantly doing what other people tell us to do, getting sidetracked by the latest blog post, or otherwise worrying over details that won’t matter in the long run. We lose our focus.
As part of your planning for the new year, do the following:
- Decide what meaningful productivity looks like on a weekly basis. Does it mean writing 250 words every week, plus two blog posts? Does it mean having meaningful conversations on Twitter? Does it mean making progress on a long-term project? Decide, but under no circumstance should you measure productivity based on what someone else does.
- Figure out how much time it takes you to be “productive” on a weekly basis. If the amount of time scares you, then you’ve been too ambitious. Scale back to a level where you can be disciplined and consistent.
- Block out sacred time on your schedule for you to get this work done.
If you need help with specifics of task completion, see my post: My Secret to Battling Procrastination.
If, after applying these strategies to your lifestyle, you still can’t find the time to accomplish what you want, then all is not lost. Just read this post and relax.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s milos milosevic